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Fifth-grade leaders offer schoolwide improvement ideas

Lowell — What happens when you appoint 10 fifth-graders as student leaders, tasked with making their school a better place?

Here’s what Cherry Creek Elementary Principal Craig Veldman found out:

They flood the staff with notes of gratitude. They participate in random acts of kindness. They help plan monthly celebrations. They give feedback on things they like and don’t like. They come up with ways to share news. They even explain why they think their school needs renovation in a district bond proposal video for the community.

Most importantly, they learn that their voices matter.

“Right now we are learning about the 13 colonies and how the British didn’t have a voice in their government. (Without the Leadership Team), the students wouldn’t have a voice in the school,” said Ellie Fricke, tying leadership to what she’s learned in social studies.

“It’s kind of similar to our government in the real world,” Emery Davis said. “Students get to have a voice and get to vote on things that are happening in our school.”

A Voice and a Choice

Veldman started the fifth-grade Student Leadership Team last school year as a way to give students more ownership following the difficult pandemic years. 

“The students had so many things that were done to them during Covid – they didn’t have a voice or a choice,” the principal said. “We wanted to really build capacity of leadership within our students, to show them what it means to be a student leader and give them opportunities to lead.”

To be on the team, students completed a rigorous application and interview process last fall. Of 70 that applied, two were selected from each fifth-grade class. 

Since then they’ve led school-wide efforts like monthly PBIS celebration planning, for which they brainstormed choices for party activities and let each class vote on what game they wanted to play. They also led students in writing thank-you notes to all the staff and handed out kind notes to all younger students in the school.

‘It’s kind of similar to our government in the real world. Students get to have a voice and get to vote on things that are happening in our school.’

— fifth-grader Emery Davis

They also debrief after events. During their recent meeting, students offered feedback on the PBIS celebration and March is Reading Month activities to Veldman and Jennafer Slanger, coordinator of student support. 

“I love Reading Month,” Megan Uramkin said. “It’s one of my favorite things, but we didn’t get to pick the books this year for the Tournament of Books. I was a little disappointed.”

Fellow student leader Natalie Roberts presented an idea for sharing school news as a broadcast featuring weather, events and other happenings. The team said they loved the idea and saw it as an important way to use student voice.

One project led by student leaders was to give notes of gratitude to the Cherry Creek staff (courtesy)

The team’s input has played a role in Veldman’s decision-making, he said. The PBIS celebrations, for example, used to be planned by him and Slanger; now, the Student Leadership Team is at the helm. 

“They really did a great job leading that process.”

Read more from Lowell: 
Librarian appointed to Governor’s Educator Advisory Council
Middle school should be a nice, kind place

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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